An exploit never before seen just meant one big payday for a Russian student named Sergey Glazunov, who took said exploit and managed to hack a computer running Google's Chrome browser. And while the concept may seem straight out of a William Gibson work, the execution is all too real.
Basically, Glazunov's exploit bypassed what's known as the “sandbox” restriction on Chrome, which would, under normal circumstances, keep a hacker from the rest of the computer, even if he or she had managed to breach the browser itself. Glazunov's exploit, therefore, allowed him to go in through the browser, and from there, to the rest of the computer.
Google had previously established a prize system for hacking competitions, where winners would receive payouts on any tricks that could be found to do exactly what Glazunov's exploit managed to do, and the events of the Pwnium Competition at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver proved no different. Glazunov took home one of the $60,000 prizes, as reportedly part of a graduated prize system depending on how much of the exploit was previously known. Glazunov was required to keep mum on just what it was he did, as well as turn over all research involved in the development of said exploit, so that Google can fix the resulting breach and ensure that no one else will be able to get in the same way Glazunov did, not even Glazunov himself.
Competitions like this are, I'd say, a good idea in general. If you've got a whole bunch of people with a vested interest in cracking open a browser or similar piece of software and using it to nefarious ends, why not get all those people together in the same room and watch them go at it? Offering a healthy cash prize, at least a year's salary in many jobs, certainly doesn't hurt, and not only are you controlling losses on your end, but you're also providing protection against a future maelstrom of bad publicity by actively working to prevent all those black hat types out there from using your software to break into people's computers and cause no end of harm.
Hopefully more companies will follow Google's lead on this one — some already have — and we'll see a lot more hacking competitions and a lot fewer actual hackings.
Edited by Rich Steeves